Horace "Pip" Koehler
Despite being only 5-10 and 160 pounds, Horace "Pip" Koehler was a big man in Tacoma area baseball circles.
Pip was born in Gilbert, Penn., early in the 1900s and graduated from Penn State in 1923, earning letters in baseball, basketball and football. After two years of teaching, he signed with the New York Giants, playing in their farm system for several seasons. He was an infielder for the Toledo Mud Hens in the 1920s, playing for Casey Stengel, who would go on to a Hall of Fame managing career with the New York Yankees and Mets.
The 1927 Mud Hens won the American Association title and what was called the Junior World Series. That the Mud Hens even got that far was amazing because they had to win their final 10 games, all on the road.
Pip was known to have a good mind for baseball, and he turned that into a career as a baseball manager and administrator. His managing career started at Portsmouth (Va.) of the Piedmont League, followed by a stint with Akron (Ohio) of the Middle Atlantic League.
In 1941, Koehler was introduced to the Northwest baseball scene when he moved to Tacoma to direct the Tigers of the Western International League. He led the club for two seasons as player-manager. During the team's 58-76 season in 1941, Koehler hit a solid .280 in 91 games. The following year when the Tigers were 60-74, Koehler had a respectable .261 average while playing in an even 100 contests.
From 1943-45 he managed Todd Shipyards in the local Defense League. Walt Jutte, an Oldtimers Hall of Fame member, played for Pip in 1944 and called Pip one of the best managers he played for.
"I remember something I learned from Pip," said Jutte. "I was at bat with one out and the winning run was on third base. Pip asked, 'Can you hit a fly ball?' I said, 'I'll try.' Pip responded by saying, 'No, I said CAN you?' I again replied, 'Well, that's what I WANT to do.' Pip them shot back, 'Well, do you mind if I pinch hit for you because I KNOW I can!' I said, 'Well, if you think you can do it then go ahead because I want us to win the game.' Well, darn if he didn't walk up there and promptly hit a fly ball to win the game. I was amazed that he could be so confident to do that."
When the Pacific Coast League's Phoenix franchise became the Tacoma Giants in 1960, Pip served as the team's first ticket manager. Koehler also served in the same capacity for the Tacoma Cubs, eventually retiring in 1977. Several years during the 1970s, Tacoma's Pacific Coast League entry led minor league baseball in season ticket sales.
Remember the part about Koehler's size. That size didn't stop him on the baseball field, nor did it stop him from a successful basketball career. During baseball's off-season, Pip had a solid professional basketball career, starting during the 1924-25 season with Philadelphia Crane Club of the Eastern League. He also played for the Pittsburgh Morrys of the Central League and Fort Wayne (Ind.) of the American Pro League, and was player-coach for the Toledo Red Man Tobaccos. He also played with Kingston (N.Y.) in the New York State League.
Pip had one memorable "mad dash" between playing basketball for Fort Wayne and baseball for the Toledo Mud Hens. He was still playing basketball for Fort Wayne and was trying to help the team beat Chicago in order to win the second half championship. He was given permission by Stengel to report late for Mud Hens spring training, but was told to be there by Sunday or face a $50 per day fine.
After helping Fort Wayne beat Chicago on a Saturday night, Pip raced to catch the train to New Orleans, not even stopping to shower. He boarded the train in his basketball uniform covered by an overcoat. He arrived at the New Orleans hotel at 12:30 p.m. Sunday and found out that the Mud Hens were playing an exhibition game an hour later. He caught a cab to the ballpark and changed into his baseball uniform. "I reported to Stengel and he asked if I was ready to play. I replied that I was and he said, 'You're playing second base.'"
Pip Koehler passed away on Dec. 9, 1986 and was survived by two sons, Tom and John.